Category Archives: Book Reviews

Manga Review: Caterpillar Girl and Bad Texter Boy

Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, a novella about a guy who turns into a big bug, is standard reading in a lot of schools. For those who’ve craved more stories in that vein, mangaka Sanzo presents the single volume tale of Caterpillar Girl and Bad Texter Boy!

Back Cover Blurb

When a beautiful girl asks her childhood friend out, his response is a shocker: ‘You’re too perfect.’ What’s a girl to do, except transform into a giant caterpillar and try, try again?

The Review

Caterpillar Girl and Bad Texter Boy sounds like the name of a superhero team or a comic duo. However, the characters of this seven-chapter, single volume manga are not heroic, and while there is some humor, the story is more melodrama than laughs.

”Bad Texter Boy” refers to Akane Kuchinashi, and it’s a misnomer because you only see him using his smartphone on the first page. He’s more accurately described as a borderline NEET (a shut-in). Although he attends school, he doesn’t have any confidence, is bad at interacting with others, and therefore keeps to himself.

However, Akane does have one friend: Suzume Kikuo, the girl next door. She’s beautiful, smart, and popular—the exact opposite of him. So Akane’s shocked when Suzume asks to be his girlfriend. Instead of being happy about it, he turns her down, saying that she’s too perfect and he’s too messed up for it to work. Unwilling to give up, Suzume decides to rectify the situation, not by changing Akane, but by turning herself into a giant caterpillar.

And there you have the humor in the story, with Akane freaking out at his transformed friend and Suzume struggling to do things in her new body. However, the story doesn’t devolve into a weird ”my girlfriend is a bug” comedy. Akane feels incredible guilt about the situation so he seeks out Yutaka Ouga, the schoolmate who told Suzume how she might change herself. However, when he finds Yutaka, she is strangely hostile toward him.

With the introduction of Yutaka, the focus shifts to the origins of Akane’s pathetic personality. In addition to self-reflection on Akane’s part, Yutaka inadvertently stumbles upon a major element of dysfunction in the Kuchinashi family.  At the same time, Suzume’s personality starts to degrade. The narrative that results is less about a bizarre magical transformation and more about the lingering effects of the damage people inflict upon one another.

Although Yutaka claims to be happy with her ending, the book’s conclusion is better described as bittersweet. Despite its magical elements, Caterpillar Girl and Bad Texter Boy is not a fairy tale, and Suzume’s ultimate state and the burden Akane embraces at the end is a metaphor for the scars in their relationship.

Extras include embedded author’s afterword, 4-page bonus manga, and title page in color.

In Summary

The title makes it sound like a comedy, but it’s not. Despite the supernatural transformation of a character into a giant bug, this single-volume story is really a commentary on human relationships and the immense impact that invisible emotional hurts have on our lives.

First published at the Fandom Post.

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Manga Review: Hatsu*Haru Vol. 1

Ah…high school romance. It is a staple of shojo manga, and Shizuki Fujisawa adds another title to this list with Hatsu*Haru. Read on for the review of Volume 1!

Back Cover Blurb

Playboy Kai knows his way around girls’ hearts, but when he has a run-in with tomboy Riko, he may be in for more than he bargained for! Riko clearly doesn’t fit Kai’s usual type of girl: she’s short-tempered, scary, and can (has) easily beat him up. There’s no way a rough and tumble girl like Riko is capable of a delicate feeling as love! So imagine his surprise when he finds out about her secret, one-sided crush… But it’s none of his concern, right?

The Review

It only takes a glance at Hatsu*Haru’s dewy-eyed character designs and sparkly backdrops to know that this is a shojo romance. And inside the cover are a host of stereotypical elements for that genre: the high-school setting, the handsome playboy, the awkward heroine, the crush on a teacher. However, one aspect of Hatsu*Haru that veers from standard protocol is that our main character is a guy.

First-year student Kai Ichinose is a handsome playboy, and his relationships with girls don’t go much deeper than a good time to indulge his male hormones. As for the beauties he flirts with, they definitely do NOT include tomboy Riko Takahashi. Especially after she thrashes him for breaking her friend’s heart. But despite his efforts to avoid her, he winds up as co-class representatives with Riko. And when he discovers she has a one-sided crush on their homeroom teacher, Kai find himself falling in love with her.

That last bit is the biggest leap of the story. Riko and Kai have known each other since third grade (or as they put it, “an unnecessarily long time”), and during that time, Riko has fought and humiliated Kai more than once. She is decidedly an enemy in Kai’s eyes. But then he catches her looking longingly at the object of her affections, and suddenly Kai is head over heels for her.

If you can make the leap that a maiden’s tender look (on another guy!) can captivate a shallow philanderer, the rest of the story is quite entertaining, with a good balance of comedy and heart-fluttering moments. Much of the humor gets supplied by Kai’s three friends: Miki, Tarou, and Takaya. Although they make a foursome, they’re not an F4-type clique. Rather, they serve as a means for Kai to vocalize his internal turmoil. As he struggles with inexplicable new emotions, his friends alternate between teasing him and making commentary that indicates just how much Riko’s affected him.

As for the romantic bits, Fujisawa-sensei relies on cliche situations  (i.e., object of affection gets a fever, school camp confessions). However, she depicts the characters’ emotions so exquisitely and paces her drawings so beautifully that the illustrations completely draw you in. So even though Kai’s abrupt attraction to Riko might not seem plausible when considered objectively, Fujisawa-sensei’s drawings make you believe it’s 100% real.

Extras include embedded author’s notes, afterword, and translation notes.

In Summary

Hatsu*Haru might have a male protagonist, but it is a shojo romance through and through. The way our hero falls for the heroine might test the limits of credibility, but if you can get past that, you’ve got a wonderfully illustrated dynamic of a guy who wants a girl who’s pining after a man she can’t have.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Saga of Tanya the Evil Vol. #02

The Saga of Tanya the Evil anime was a surprise favorite for me in 2017. With a title like that, I was almost too scared to give it a try, but conniving little Tanya turned out to be nothing like I anticipated. Yen Press has released Volume 02 of the light novel adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For reviews of other Tanya the Evil works, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

After being reborn and becoming a magic wielding soldier in the Imperial Army, Tanya Degurechaff bemoans her fate of being placed at the very edge of the front lines instead of a comfy place in the rear. Swearing revenge on Being X, she plunges head-first into battle, dragging her subordinate along with her!

The Review

The second volume of The Saga of Tanya the Evil is as much about Tanya’s newly formed battalion, the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion, as it is about Tanya. The battalion’s very existence came about because of Tanya, and its fate is intricately connected to hers. While Tanya often curses Being X, there is no real dialogue between mortals and immortals in this installment. It’s all about human actions, individual and corporal, and as the beleaguered Empire faces enemies on three sides, it sends the 203rd jumping from front to front.

As in the anime, the 203rd first obliterates a Dacian invasion and then gets sent to Norden before finally going to the Republican Front. As a result, the book starts with a positive tone, which gets progressively darker as battle conditions worsen and enemies get tougher. Meanwhile, Tanya continues to be misunderstood by friend and foe alike; no one would think that she wants peace more than anyone.

Although the situations Zen sets up in Volume 2 are quite intriguing, his particular writing style requires effort to slog through. Just as in Volume 1, the text is plagued with abrupt POV shifts and lack of dialogue tags. On top of that, Zen has a tendency to overexplain the decisions of military and state heads. In addition, the narrative is full of redundant statements. So even though the reader winds up learning exactly what everyone’s doing and how they came to that plan of action, reading all that minutiae gets tedious.

However, there are fun bits. While the anime delves into the training of the original 203rd members, it glosses over the raw recruits that the battalion receives AFTER arriving on the Republican Front. Tanya’s praises to the shovel rather remind me of the way the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy hails the towel. The new recruits’ baptism by fire in the trenches did not get animated, but reading about it from Second Lieutenant Warren Grantz’s perspective was thrilling.

Another Volume 2 arc that wasn’t included in the anime is the botched Norden-Commonwealth smuggling attempt on the high seas. Although the text flowed like cold tar and Zen takes a ridiculous amount of time before revealing the ultimate fate of the Commonwealth submarine, this skirmish is a gripping collision of coincidences and mistakes from everyone involved. If Zen could somehow streamline his writing, it would definitely make for on-the-edge-of your-seat reading.

Extras include a map and fold-out illustration in color; appendixes explaining military strategy and history timeline; author afterword; and six black-and-white illustrations.

In Summary

Carlo Zen’s longwinded prose continues to test the endurance of those who would read about his alternate world. (He even admits in the afterword that this volume is a bit thick.) However, if you’re willing to take on this 406-page behemoth, you’ll be rewarded with a Norden battle and a Republican Front “training exercise” that weren’t included in the anime. In addition, you’ll know all the details that lead up to each of 203rd Battalion’s orders— whether you’re interested or not.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Manga Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #15

Spice and Wolf is a wildly popular light novel series that has spawned off an anime, an Internet radio show, and a manga series. While its European medieval setting is typical of high fantasy, this series has  a unique bent to it. Rather than swordfights and magic, the plot focuses on economics, trade, and peddling in a way that skillfully blends adventure and romance.

Yen Press has released Volume 15 of the Spice and Wolf manga, and you can read on for the review. (For my reviews of previous Spice and Wolf releases, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

The Debau Company is headed to a point of no return. The radicals within the company have made their move and deposed the conservative faction, all the while steering the northlands closer to the brink of open battle. A certain wolf rushes South as fast as her paws can carry her, but can Lawrence and the Myuri Mercenary Company hold back the flames of war long enough for a chance at lasting peace?

The Review

Having been manipulated by Hilde into fleeing Lesko, Lawrence and the Myuri Mercenaries must determine their next plan of action. The discussion between Lawrence and the mercenary leaders is intended to provide a snapshot of their current circumstances and options, but it is a little difficult to follow. However, they clearly make the decision to go to Svernel, as Hilde intended, and shortly thereafter, the situation really gets interesting when pursuers hired by the Debau Company catch up to them.

The Myuri Company’s reaction to the arrival of the Hugo Company and Luward’s communications with Captain Rebonato might strike readers as baffling. After all, these people are mercenaries, and modern Western readers generally think of mercenaries as fighters-for-hire whose only loyalty is to money. To the contrary, the mercenaries of the Spice and Wolf world are people with their own code of honor and who are distinctly different from knights, hired thugs, and assassins. As such, the staged battles between the Myuri and Hugo Companies were not at all what I expected.

Holo’s return to Lawrence is also rather low-key. Although she alludes to difficulties when she returned to Lesko to find Lawrence gone, the Myuri Company is not in dire straits when she rejoins them. That relaxed atmosphere allows for an unexpectedly tender moment in the snow with our lead couple. (Although the romance is immediately followed by blatant fan service when Holo retrieves the forbidden book.)

That lack of tension also serves another purpose: heightening the Myuri Company’s shock when their staged negotiation go awry. While the code of honor between mercenaries remains a bit of a puzzle for me, the turnabout is effective at flinging our heroes back into peril and bringing excitement back to the pages.

Extras include title illustration in color and afterword.

In Summary

Apparently, merchants aren’t the only ones who strike negotiations and scheme to minimize losses. Mercenaries do, too! Lawrence gets a glimpse into the world of mercenaries as he flees with the Myuri Company to Svernel.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Saga of Tanya the Evil Vol. #02

The Saga of Tanya the Evil anime was a surprise favorite for me in 2017. With a title like that, I was almost too scared to give it a try, but conniving little Tanya turned out to be nothing like I anticipated. Yen Press has released Volume 02 of the manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my reviews of other Tanya the Evil works, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

After being reborn and becoming a magic wielding soldier in the Imperial Army, Tanya Degurechaff bemoans her fate of being placed at the very edge of the front lines instead of a comfy place in the rear. Swearing revenge on Being X, she plunges head-first into battle, dragging her subordinate along with her!

The Review

Volume 2 delivers three dense chapters from three different POVs. In Chapter 4, Tanya meets her very first subordinates, and these pages are written from the perspective of Corporal Viktorya Serebryakov. Unlike the anime, which gave Visha a somewhat dopey character design to match her dopey personality, the manga portrays her as a young beauty (even when she’s puking in the trenches). The manga also differs from the anime in that the two other cadets assigned to Tanya disappear without much fanfare. However, Visha stays close to Tanya as she does in the novel and anime, and through her eyes we see how Tanya inspires fear and admiration in ordinary soldiers. In addition, because Visha is a newbie to the Rhine front, we get to learn about the war theater and military tactics alongside her. And there is QUITE a bit to learn. Fortunately, the myriad personalities on the front keep the influx of information from getting dry.

Next in Chapter 5, the POV shifts to Tanya as her unit gets sent to engage an elite company of Republican mages. This one sortie provides a snapshot of her interactions with her superior, her peers, and her enemies as well as insight into the motives behind her actions. It’s interesting how coolly she calculates the quickest way to reward (i.e. a vacation) even in the chaos of the battlefield. However, Being X never fails to make her lose her temper, and the rage when she’s forced to use the Elinium 95 is a remarkable contrast to her usual level-headed demeanor. By the way, I especially appreciated the manga’s depiction of the chatter between Tanya and Schones’ unit. The way the novel presented the scene made it difficult to picture the conversation; the manga not only presented it clearly, it made it entertaining.

In this volume’s final chapter, we move away from the battlefield to a different set of players: the Empire’s top brass. The topic of discussion is Tanya’s candidacy for War College, and it ends up being a kind of employee review to determine whether Tanya’s achievements are worthy of promotion. Just as in Chapter 4, readers get a good sense of the impression Tanya makes on others even as we learn about the Empire’s military leadership and values. The exchange between generals and majors isn’t as colorful as that on the front, but it is engaging nonetheless.

Extras include detailed glossary of terms after each chapter.

In Summary

For those who want to dive deeper into Tanya’s war torn world, this volume does an excellent job of conveying both the terror and filth of the trenches as well as the geopolitics behind military strategies. Having also read the Tanya novel and watched the anime, I feel that the manga does the best job of the three at depicting Tanya’s tour of duty at the Rhine and the debate over her candidacy into War College. There’s aerial combat for action/magic lovers, tons of details on the Empire and its enemies for strategy geeks, and a whole lot of personality from the cast to make it a lively read.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Manga Review: The Royal Tutor Vol. 6

Rich, handsome young men, each with his own distinct personality…this type of bishounen cast is a staple in shojo manga. And if you like yours with a generous helping of chibi humor, you should definitely check out Higasa Akai’s The Royal Tutor. Read on for my review of Volume 6. (For my reviews of other volumes click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Heine and the princes have overcome many a difficulty together, deepening the mutual trust between the teacher and his pupils. But even though Heine has walked closely alongside the princes as they slowly come into their own, the royal tutor himself still remains a mystery to them. When Count Rosenberg claims to know who he really is, could Heine’s secretive past become public knowledge?

The Review

Volume 5 ended with what appeared to be the start of an ominous confrontation between the nefarious-looking Count Rosenberg and Heine. However, in true Royal Tutor fashion, Heine refuses to rise to the count’s baiting and almost immediately dispels his threatening air. As such, we don’t get much more dirt on Rosenberg or Heine, save for a pointed remark about Heine tutoring at a church prior to working at the palace. While it does rekindle interest in Heine’s true identity in Chapter 30, it mainly serves to highlight Leonhard’s childishness when he has a jealous fit at the thought of Heine’s other students.

And that’s it for Volume 6’s intrigue. Next, the mood alternates between endearing and comical as Heine continues to shape the princes into suitable candidates for the throne in four standalone chapters. While Kai’s and Bruno’s stories deal with the topic of school, Heine’s lessons have nothing to do with book learning and deal instead with building their character. Thus, Licht and Bruno learn (separately) to take consideration of others, Kai learns to speak up for what he believes in, and Leonhard accepts a task he’d rather reject. Regarding the Leonhard-centric chapter, Akai-sensei’s finally found a way to poke fun at Leonhard that doesn’t involve academics (for which I am grateful), but even so, he still winds up looking like the family idiot.

The volume wraps up with a final silly chapter in which the four brothers volunteer to clean Heine’s room. It is a task none of them are familiar with, and their team dynamics are already full of quirks so their efforts predictably wind up in chaos. However, their determination to please Heine and the objects they encounter in his room do make the chapter entertaining nonetheless.

Extras include bonus manga printed on the inside of the cover; three-page bonus story; and first page printed in color.

In Summary

This volume begins with what looks like big trouble for Heine and his four students in the form of Count Rosenberg. However, the steward of the eldest prince quickly recedes to the backdrop after throwing around vague remarks, and Volume 6 winds up a series of fluffy, filler chapters. Court Rosenberg does make another appearance at the very end of the book though, and it’s a tantalizing glimpse that makes me hope the next volume will actually shed light on his true agenda.

First published at The Fandom Post.

 

Graphic Novel Review: The Cardboard Kingdom

A few years back, the We Need Diverse Books movement caused a stir in the publishing industry by demanding that books portray a broader spectrum of family backgrounds, cultures, races, genders, etc. The Cardboard Kingdom feels like a response to that movement, and you can read on for the review.

Back Cover Blurb

Welcome to a neighborhood of kids who transform ordinary boxes into colorful costumes, and their ordinary block into cardboard kingdom. This is the summer when sixteen kids encounter knights and rogues, robots and monsters–and their own inner demons–on one last quest before school starts again.

In the Cardboard Kingdom, you can be anything you want to be–imagine that!

The Review

The Cardboard Kingdom is a collection of sixteen stories in graphic novel format. Chad Sell is the sole artist for the work so that the illustration style remains constant. However, ten additional authors participated in the writing of this work. Except for “The Bully” and “Megalopolis,” the stories are stand-alone, but they all draw from the same cast of neighborhood kids who are spending their summer vacation playing make-believe with homemade costumes and cardboard props.

Each chapter/story focuses on a different child, who has his/her own unique imaginary persona. This persona stays the same throughout the book. Therefore, the kid who dresses as a blob is always a blob, the girl knight is always a knight, and the boy who wants to be a sorceress is always pretending to be a sorceress. The make-believe aspect allows for colorful illustrations, and Sell tailors the palette for each chapter to complement the featured character’s color scheme.

As for the story plots, they range from simple subjects, like learning to make friends or watching over a younger sibling, to heavier topics like divorce. Interestingly, although the creators go out of their way to include every skin tone and hair texture you can think of, race is not the source of tension between any of the characters. Nor is class, family background, or economics. A bit of Spanish is used in the dialogue for the Dominican American character, but aside from that, all the kids have equal status in the same pizza-and-soda suburban culture.

However, bullying and gender identity are the sources of quite a bit of tension. Three stories focus on the problems encountered by cross-dressing children, and another is about a boy crushing on another boy. As for bullies, there’s only one bully that harasses the neighborhood kids, but he pops up throughout the book, and his story takes two chapters to tell.

The book is aimed toward 9- to 12-year-olds. As such, story endings are predominantly positive. Children attain the understanding of their parents, rivals become partners, misfits find acceptance, and the bully becomes a friend and ally. However, “The Gargoyle,” which is about a boy whose parents are divorcing, contains so much fraught emotion that its ending is appropriately ambivalent.

In summary

The Cardboard Kingdom is part imaginary fun, part We Need Diverse Books project. Kids will enjoy the vibrant illustrations of the cast and their alter egos, but it feels like the creators tried a bit too hard to include characters and issues that every single person can relate to. As a result, certain details feel like they were forced in for the sole purpose that the publisher could say they were being inclusive.

First published in The Fandom Post.

Novel Review: Ash Princess

YA novels often involve a search for identity. If you’re looking for a tale about identity that involves royalty, magic, and a rebellion, Laura Sebastian’s Ash Princess might fit the bill. Please read on for the review.

Back Cover Blurb

Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. On that day, the Kaiser took Theodosia’s family, her land, and her name. Theo was crowned Ash Princess–a title of shame to bear in her new life as a prisoner.

The Review

Ash Princess seems targeted toward the YA audience who wants a royal teenage rebel but prefers reading about palace scenes rather than combat maneuvers. Even though the book includes a map of the country of Astrea, it’s not that helpful because almost everything takes place at the Astrean palace, and the primary battlefield is the web of lies and intrigue surrounding the court.

Our main character is Theodosia, Princess of Astrea, a land blessed with magical gems. When she was six, the Kalovaxians, a warlike people who are like a cross between Vikings and Nazis, invaded her country, killed her mother the Queen, and enslaved the Astreans. However, instead of sending Theodosia to the Spiritgem mines like the rest of her populace, the Kalovaxian Kaiser changed her name to Thora and kept her in the palace, where she is beaten whenever the Astreans cause trouble.

Ten years later, the last Astrean rebel leader is captured. Thora is forced to execute him, but before he dies, Thora learns her true relationship to him. The incident forces her to remember her duty to her people, and when the remaining rebels make contact with her, she gives up a chance to escape, choosing instead to spy on the people who imprisoned her.

There’s a lot going on in this story: magic, oppressed slaves, a castle with secret passageways, ruthless conquerors, an ambush against another country, romance, murmurs of a new military weapon. However, the main focus is the identity of our main character. Who is she really? The narrative uses three names (Theodosia/Thora/Theo) that highlight how she views herself, the roles she’s trying to play, and what she strives to become. This plays out primarily on two interweaving fronts: the spy game and the love triangle.

Despite getting beaten and humiliated at king’s orders on a regular basis, Theodosia not only gets to occupy the same space as the most powerful Kalovaxians in the land, she’s even endeared herself to one of them: Crescentia, the daughter of the Kaiser’s general. Even though Crescentia’s father killed Theodosia’s mother, the girls are best friends, and Crescentia trusts Thora wholeheartedly. As improbable as that relationship sounds, it does make for interesting internal turmoil when Theodosia starts deceiving her unwitting friend for the rebel cause.

That internal turmoil is matched by that caused by the Kaiser’s son Soren. The polar opposite of his self-absorbed, underhanded, ignoble father, the handsome prince falls in love with Theodosia. (Conveniently, she only carries scars on her back so that she’s still a pretty princess despite all her beatings.) What results is a surprisingly compelling star-crossed lovers scenario that only intensifies when we discover that Soren’s feelings toward Theodosia are more complex than she first realizes.

Unfortunately, the chemistry between Theodosia and the other leg of the love triangle doesn’t quite work. Blaise is an escaped slave and the equivalent of the “boy next door” from Theodosia’s childhood. He and the other two Astreans who have managed to infiltrate the palace are initially distrustful toward Theodosia, partly because they’re unsure where her loyalties lie, partly because they question her abilities. The fact that she’s been well fed in a palace while her people are starving in mines doesn’t help. As such, there’s a lot of initial squabbling between Theodosia and Blaise. However, when they plot to have Theodosia seduce Soren, the subsequent conversation about Theodosia’s first kiss seems way out of character for former slaves who’ve supposedly suffered rape and other unspeakable atrocities. So when Blaise kisses Theodosia, it feels forced, like it’s only there to achieve a plot point. And when Theodosia’s feelings go back and forth between Soren and Blaise, she just comes off as fickle.

Another weakness of the story is backstory of the Kalovaxian invasion. Supposedly, Astrea was an idyllic country where everyone was unified under their strong, beautiful Queen. In addition, it was the only place where people wielded magic. Theodosia remarks at the opening about the astounding superhuman powers Astrean magic users possessed that the Kalovaxians have never been able to imitate. And despite this great advantage, they fell—in fairly short order—before their magicless conquerors, and it’s never made clear how.

The strategies of Theodosia’s rebel companions are equally baffling. At one point, Theodosia steals Spiritgems, making it possible for one of the rebels to cast illusions and another to become invisible. Yet they shove the job of poisoning the Kalovaxian general and his daughter onto Theodosia. While it does provide more for Theodosia to agonize over, strategically it makes a lot more sense for the invisible guy to do it. Instead, they use their powers to hover over Theodosia when she goes to a masquerade ball.

As for the end of the story, it’s not really the end of the story. Like so many books in this genre, it concludes with the end of a battle and the beginnings of an uprising. While the final chapters reveal some intriguing connections between the cast, I don’t feel sufficiently invested the world of Astrea to read on about its ultimate fate.

In Summary

Ash Princess presents a tale in which a captive princess must cast off her slave persona and find the inner fortitude to become the queen her people need. While it takes us on an interesting internal journey about self-identity, the novel’s external conflicts left me scratching my head at times. However, if you aren’t as interested in those kinds of details and just want a story where a beautiful princess defies an unquestionably evil enemy while wearing pretty gowns and having two boys fall in love with her, then give this book a try.

First published at The Fandom Post.

 

Manga Review: Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts Vol. #01

The theme of love transcending appearances is a popular one in fairy tales, and Yen Press’ Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts fits that genre. The fantasy manga tells of the relationship between a girl and her beastly fiance, and you can read on for the review.

Back Cover Blurb

A young girl has resigned herself to being he next sacrificial meal for the Beast King…but the king is no mere monster! Love is more than skin-deep in this gorgeous fantasy manga.

The Review

Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts feels like a twist on the Beauty and the Beast genre. In addition, I found the character design of the King of Beasts Leonhard to be quite reminiscent of Disney’s Beast. Both of these male leads are bestial but not grotesque, and while their forms command respect, the heroines also bring out a cuddly side to them as well.

In Sacrificial Princess, that heroine is an ordinary village girl, Sariphi. Her name means “sacrifice” and for good reason. In this world, fear and hate separate beastkind and humankind, and in order to appease the King of Beasts, humans must regularly offer him the sacrifice of a young girl. Sariphi is the 99th offering, but unlike her predecessors, she does not fear the king. Rather, she’s able to see through his fierce facade and see the kindness beneath his ferocious work and actions.

If you like a moody hero who’s hiding secrets and an artless ingenue who can ease his heart, you will probably enjoy this story. Throughout the volume, Sariphi is given warnings or instructions not to do something, but she (always) winds up in trouble anyway. However, rather than annoying the king, those instances (always) endear her to him.

Plotwise, I’m not sure where this series is headed. Chapter 1, which is just under 50 pages, seems like it was originally a standalone story. By the end of that chapter, Sariphi discovers the king’s deepest secret and he declares his intention to make her his queen. Given their circumstances, the pair’s feelings for one another are decidedly steadfast, and it feels like “happily even after” is attained at the very start.

So how does the series push forward? By complicating the politics of the setting. The title King of Beasts makes it sound like Leonhard is the king of ALL beasts, and the book’s opening makes it seem like there are only two groups: the beast people, who occupy a miasma polluted region, and the humans who live beyond the miasma. In Chapter 2, beastkind expands to encompass an international scope. The King of Beasts is only one of a number of beast kings, and it is unclear whether the ritual sacrifice that brought Sariphi to Leonhard has significance for beastkind as a whole or if it’s just a regional tribute.

The main purpose of adding all these extra kingdoms is to introduce would-be rivals of royal rank for Sariphi. As such, the focus is the Sariphi’s insecurities because of these beast princesses, and the world building that justifies their existence seems thrown together as an afterthought. However, if you’re more interested in watching a beast and girl’s devotion play out in different scenarios, those details might not matter to you.

Extras include embedded author’s notes and the bonus manga, “The Beast Princess and the Regular King.”

In Summary

Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts should have a lot of appeal for fans of Beauty and the Beast stories, especially ones who like anthropomorphic animals. The King of Beasts has an interesting background and carries a ton of emotional baggage, but the relationship between him and Sariphi is simple fairytale devotion. Although hate, prejudice, and sacrifice swirl in the backdrop, the pure love between our main couple is what dominates this story.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Manga Review: Barakamon Vol. 15

The contrast between city and rural life has been a source of entertainment since the time of Aesop’s fables. It remains a popular subject in manga and anime today, and joining the ranks of Silver Nina, Non Non Biyori, and Silver Spoon is Yen Press’ series Barakamon. Read on for my review of Volume 15! (For my reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Severely overestimating the villagers’ wealth, Handa-sensei finds himself quite short on students for his calligraphy school upon announcing his exorbitant tuition rate. But as his hopes begin to fade, a savior appears!?

The Review

Handa has settled into the island community for a while now, but the calligraphy school arc has a similar vibe to Barakamon’s early chapters where he was struggling to adjust. This time, however, instead of being the clueless city boy learning how to live in the country, he’s the sheltered artist figuring out how to make a living. Yoshino-sensei makes clear just how sheltered Handa’s been when he discovers his father’s been paying rent for him all this time. When village chief informs Handa that his father now expects him to pay his own rent, the young calligrapher’s stunned speechless. What’s more, Handa doesn’t have even a basic grasp of how a calligraphy school functions as he’s only ever trained at home.

Handa’s definitely not the type of protagonist to figure these kinds of things by his own strength. Unfortunately, the islanders can’t offer much help in his latest endeavor, and he takes on an almost predatory view of his friends as prospective students. (Naru’s comparison of Handa to a sea anemone is quite funny). As such, it’s up to the friend who’s always handled the business aspects of Handa’s calligraphy—namely Kawafuji—to help with the business aspects of starting Handa’s school.

As a result, there are a lot of parallels with earlier chapters as Handa fails to plan ahead, gets overwhelmed to the point of paralysis, and exhibits no practical ability whatsoever to Kawafuji’s frustration. If you enjoy watching Handa’s occasional moments of brilliance amid mostly incompetent behavior, you’ll have a lot to like.

The remaining two chapters are brief holiday-themed stories. The first is Setsubun—Gotou style! As part of this Japanese holiday, children pelt a “demon” with beans, and you can easily guess whom the kids choose as their demon. Then we shift to the middle school for Valentine’s Day. There’s little romance to be had, but quite a few delusional girls.

Extras include bonus manga, translation notes, and another installment of “Barakamon News.”

In Summary

In the early chapters of Barakamon, Handa struggled as a clueless city boy unused to country life. Now he’s struggling again—as a clueless person unused to basic adult responsibilities. And once more it’s up to Kawafuji to do the practical thinking for his sheltered artist friend. If you were hoping for more Kawafuji-style tough love, you’ll get it in this volume.

First published at The Fandom Post.